In Happy Endings, writer-director Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex) tells three interlocking stories, involving ever-shifting romantic and familial relationships, often centered around pregnancy. The fixations on parentage and sexuality, and any applicable deceptions therewith, are straight from his earlier film, and wry title cards even provide a gentler version of that movie’s caustic voiceover narration.
But if Roos is retreading familiar ground, he’s doing so with an eye to maturity — the characters are less outlandish, and his witty writing goes for fewer shock laughs. Unfortunately, Roos tends to push his seamier plot twists — blackmail, elaborate ruses — into sitcom territory, diminishing the film’s immediacy. Characters are rushed through wacky lies, wake up on the other side of melodrama, and have to hitchhike back to observant, punchy humor. A story thread about two gay couples is particularly ill-served by this approach; aimless and protracted, it elbows for screen time that would be better spent on any number of underdeveloped relationships.
Luckily, the director’s skill with actors makes up for the crowding. Roos fills his ensemble with challenges and overcomes them all; he gets Tom Arnold to be quiet and likable, Jesse Bradford to tighten his slack jaw, and, as in Sex, Lisa Kudrow to give a beautiful and subtle performance far removed from TV’s Phoebe — she imbues a couple of reaction shots with her character’s whole unhappy world. Another standout: Maggie Gyllenhaal, playing a sexy, funny, and refreshingly pathos-free lost girl. Watching Roos bring these characters together is a pleasure, even when the reasons feel arbitrary.
Opens July 15 at Landmark Sunshine